Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Chinese redux

Last week, someone was trying to describe his fiancee to Packrat and struggled to find the words. Eventually he lapsed into Chinese. Someone else in the group had to then translate what was being said to the very lost looking Packrat. Packrat stated that he was effectively monolingual. I added that our 5 year olds had a better command of the language than he did.

Our 5 years olds do a decent job with a language we don't use much at home. We have learnt that the most effective way of introducing a second language to a child is to have each parent responsible for one language and only speak that one language to the child. That sounds like a good idea in theory but in practice, that meant me. We were also told that unfortunately, the parent tasked with the second language would get ignored more because communicating with that parent would be more difficult. Humph.

Anyway, we decided a few things when it came to our kids learning Chinese. It had to be fun and relatively painless. It shouldn't scare them and most importantly, it shouldn't stress them out and cause them to dread it. All the memories of Chinese tuition and memorising copious amounts of words and phrases we barely remember now have left an indelible mark on us.

It's been 2 years since they've started a weekly Chinese class. For the most part, they are willing to go, Evan more than Jordan but I've explained that already . It has got a lot to do with very encouraging, un-intimidating teachers who play with them and dramatise stories for them. And they've gone from getting 1's (hardly ever using Chinese) to being able to read Chinese better than English and random pages of a Chinese story book as well as write their names. In a nutshell, they've overtaken their father.

Having said that it doesn't stress them out, it does stress me out. Admittedly, it is a rigourous curriculum that they are put through and the only way they are able to read their readers is that I, the designated 2nd language parent, take them through. Being the best person for the job doesn't take much in our family and on paper, I do have a distinction in the language. But when it comes to reading, I am just about their level or have to depend heavily on pinyin. Even then,  I am occasionally stumped by the twins' reader and more so stumped when conversing with them. There have been days when I photograph the page with offendingly difficult characters and send SOS messages with pictures attached to my more Chinese enabled friends. (I never trust the twins when they read me the character because once, I stupidly  believed them when they told me the Chinese character for the dog's bark was "wo wo". It wasn't, it was just the onomatopoeic way of referring to the dog's bark but they had me fooled for a while.)

Thankfully, it seems much more painless for them. For now anyway. Plus, I have the added tools of Chinese videos that they enjoy watching, wooden block games that look suspiciously like mahjong but it gets them to identify and put together radicals to form characters and other games that they have lots of fun doing.

For Muffin, who is still disturbingly pre-speech, I'm just leaving him to jig to Chinese songs and telling him what his name is.  I can just about handle one level of Chinese at a time.


I won't be able to keep this up forever and at some point, it will definitely get too difficult for me. Then, I will have to cede the job to someone better qualified than I am.  

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